Phenobarbital (Luminal) Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

Phenobarbital (Luminal) pills

What is Phenobarbital (Luminal)?

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate that is used as a sedative-hypnotic. It is frequently prescribed by doctors to treat seizures and to provide relief from drug withdrawal symptoms. It’s sold under the brand name Luminal.

Phenobarbital works by slowing activity in the brain and nervous system. When it’s used safely as prescribed by a doctor, phenobarbital is an effective medication. However, it has the potential to be addictive and people who misuse it by taking larger or more frequent doses than prescribed are likely to develop tolerance, dependence, and possibly even addiction.

Is Phenobarbital Addictive?

Yes, phenobarbital is addictive, especially when it is misused. In America, it is a Schedule IV drug, which means it has the potential to be misused and may cause physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction.

When it comes to prescription drugs like phenobarbital, many people believe these medications are less dangerous than illegal drugs because they’re prescribed. Or, they may think that the side effects won’t be as potent because it’s a prescription medication. However, this type of mindset is very dangerous and can lead people to misuse drugs like phenobarbital with alcohol or other drugs, which can become toxic.

Repeated long-term abuse of phenobarbital prescriptions like Luminal or Solfoton is likely to produce tolerance and addiction. Even if you are prescribed phenobarbital for medical reasons, you may find that you are becoming increasingly dependent on it. If so, you should talk to your doctor immediately.

What are Some Slang Terms for Phenobarbital?

Some common street names and slang terms for barbiturates like phenobarbital include:

  • Barbs
  • Goof Balls
  • Christmas Trees
  • Block Busters
  • Red Devils
  • Red Birds
  • Reds
  • Yellow Jackets
  • Yellows
  • Reds and Blues
  • Phennies
  • Tooies
  • Pinks
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How Common Is Phenobarbital Addiction and Abuse?

The 2018 National Survey On Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that an estimated 6.4 million Americans (2.4 percent of the population) misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives, including phenobarbital, in the past year.1

Barbiturates like phenobarbital are not prescribed nearly as often as they used to be due to the recent development of benzodiazepines. Most people who abuse Luminal are younger individuals who steal the medication or get it from someone else who has a prescription for it. However, the majority of people who are prescribed phenobarbital do not abuse it.

Phenobarbital is a fast-acting barbiturate, meaning users will feel its effects very quickly after taking it. However, those side effects wear off quickly. As a result, many people who abuse Luminal binge on it to extend the longevity of its effects. Some people may also use it with other drugs, like alcohol, to enhance the side effects.

Although it is generally considered safe to use as prescribed by a doctor, phenobarbital can be fatal when it is used in high doses due to its severe effects on the central nervous system. In some countries, phenobarbital is even used in lethal injections.

Since phenobarbital is not typically prescribed often anymore, it’s primarily diverted, illegally manufactured, and sold explicitly to be abused.

What Are the Side Effects of Phenobarbital (Luminal) Abuse?

Phenobarbital is a powerful drug that can cause serious side effects, even if it is taken as prescribed by a doctor. People who misuse this potent drug are more likely to experience negative side effects that last longer, are more severe and become chronic problems.

Some of the most common side effects of phenobarbital misuse are similar to that of alcohol intoxication. They include:2

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Giddiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sedation
  • Depressed breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Memory problems
  • Blackouts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

Long-term phenobarbital abuse can also cause side effects like:

  • Joint pain
  • Thickening of the soft tissues in certain areas like the bottom of the foot
  • Increased risk of bone fractures
  • Increased risk of developing dementia
  • Seizures
  • Physical dependence
  • Addiction

Taking very high doses of phenobarbital can also cause an overdose. Signs of a phenobarbital overdose include:

  • Slow, irregular breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Severe drop in body temperature
  • The sudden appearance of blisters

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Phenobarbital Abuse and Addiction?

Phenobarbital addiction is common among those who abuse it. Signs of Luminal addiction include:

  • Using phenobarbital recreationally to get high and being unable to control usage
  • Having strong and frequent cravings for Luminal
  • Developing a significant tolerance to phenobarbital
  • Developing withdrawal syndrome when unable to acquire Luminal and use it or when using it less frequently
  • Spending a significant amount of time using phenobarbital, trying to get it, or recovering from using it
  • Continuing to abuse Luminal even when it causes emotional, physical, and relational problems
  • Giving up important activities and hobbies to use phenobarbital instead
  • Trying to cut back or stop abusing Luminal but being unable to

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Phenobarbital (Luminal)?

If someone is addicted to phenobarbital, he or she will experience uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms when they cut back or abruptly stop using it. Common phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature and sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Severe cravings

Can You Just Stop Taking Phenobarbital?

No, abruptly discontinuing phenobarbital use is never recommended. Barbiturate withdrawal can be very intense, and with some medications, the symptoms may even become deadly. This is especially true if a person tries to stop taking phenobarbital on their own after misusing it.

If you are struggling with phenobarbital addiction and you want to get sober, a medical phenobarbital detox program can provide safe, comfortable, and effective treatment to help you recover. With medical treatment and round-the-clock support, you’ll be less likely to relapse or overdose and your withdrawal symptoms may also be less severe and long-lasting with medication-assisted treatment.

Before phenobarbital detox, you’ll complete a personal assessment. The medical professionals at the detox center will use this information to create an individualized treatment program for you.

Once phenobarbital detox begins, your vitals will be monitored regularly and you’ll receive one-on-one counseling from a licensed professional counselor to address any psychological symptoms of phenobarbital withdrawal you may experience.

Upon completion of the phenobarbital detox program, your treatment team will provide you with personalized recommendations for ongoing care. This may include referrals to residential or outpatient drug rehab programs or sober living homes. These types of phenobarbital treatment and recovery support programs will help you sustain long-lasting sobriety after detox by providing you with life tools, strategies for coping with cravings and high-risk situations, behavioral therapy, and more.

How Long Does it Take for Phenobarbital to Get Out Of Your System?

There is no official medical timeline for phenobarbital withdrawal. Generally, the duration and severity of phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on how frequently a person misused it, how much they used each time, how long they’ve been abusing it, and other individual factors.

Phenobarbital may take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours or longer to be completely rid of your system. However, some of your withdrawal symptoms may linger for days, weeks, or months after completing phenobarbital detox, which is why ongoing treatment is so important.

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How Can I Get Off Phenobarbital?

Getting off phenobarbital isn’t as easy as just quitting. Withdrawal symptoms can make the process incredibly difficult, especially if you don’t have professional support. Getting the help of your doctor or addiction treatment professionals can make all the difference.

With a phenobarbital detox program, you’ll receive medication-assisted treatment to reduce the severity and duration of your withdrawal symptoms and help you cope with the psychological ones, like anxiety or insomnia. After phenobarbital detox, enrolling in an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab program can help you uncover the cause of your addiction and make positive life changes that will help you sustain your sobriety.

A high-quality phenobarbital rehab program will provide research-based and evidence-based addiction treatment methods, such as:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management
  • 12-Step facilitation therapy
  • Family behavior therapy
  • Rational emotive behavioral therapy
  • Specialized therapies like art therapy, music therapy, or pet therapy

Inpatient Drug Rehab vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab for Phenobarbital Addiction

In residential phenobarbital rehab, clients:

  • Live at the inpatient drug rehab center while they complete treatment.
  • Agree to avoid all drug and alcohol use while enrolled in the program.
  • Adhere to the guidelines, structure, and rules of their addiction treatment program.
  • Participate in individual and group therapy sessions regularly, along with other scheduled activities and program requirements.
  • Have limited access to friends and family outside of rehab.

In outpatient phenobarbital rehab, clients:

  • May live at home or in a sober living home while they are enrolled in IOP.
  • Attend a series of outpatient addiction treatment sessions at a nearby clinical location or virtually online.
  • Continue working, attending school, or attending to household duties while they are enrolled in IOP.
  • Complete homework assignments and required reading independently.

Depending on the type of phenobarbital rehab program you choose, where it is located, what kind of amenities it has, and the treatment services that are offered, the cost of the phenobarbital treatment program can vary greatly. Fortunately, most addiction treatment facilities accept health insurance, which is likely to cover a portion of the cost. Some rehab centers may also accept other forms of payment, such as:

What Are Continued Care Options for Phenobarbital Addiction?

After completing detox and rehab for phenobarbital addiction, many people choose to continue receiving recovery support by attending local addiction recovery group meetings. However, additional forms of support are also available for those who need more structure and personalized care.

Sober Living Programs

A sober living home is a gender-specific group home that provides ongoing recovery support and services for men and women in recovery. In addition to safe, comfortable, and sober housing, sober living homes may also offer:

  • Regular drug and alcohol testing
  • Certified peer recovery support
  • Individualized recovery programming
  • Employment assistance
  • Volunteer placement
  • Educational planning
  • Access to IOP and clinical care services

Depending on the location of the sober living home, its amenities, and services, the cost of enrolling in a sober living program will vary. Payment is generally collected monthly, like rent. Residents can also choose to use their health insurance benefits to pay for any formal addiction treatment services through a third-party, such as a therapist or intensive outpatient program (IOP) while they are enrolled in sober living.

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs are most helpful for individuals who have already completed a formal phenobarbital treatment program, such as phenobarbital detox and rehab programs, and need additional support to get through a transitional stage of life, such as a divorce, relocation, or the loss of a loved one.

Many of the above circumstances can be stress-inducing triggers that can lead to relapse if they are not addressed right away. No matter how long you’ve been sober, an aftercare program can provide an additional layer of support, guidance, and accountability if you are experiencing difficult circumstances or have recently relapsed.

Clients enrolled in aftercare attend group meetings weekly with other peers in recovery. Each group session is led by a licensed professional counselor and incorporates thought-provoking group discussions related to addiction, recovery, and shared life challenges.

If you’re struggling with Luminal addiction, you don’t have to remain captive to it any longer. You can start fresh with a new life in recovery today. Just call (512) 605-2955 to speak with an admissions representative at Nova Recovery Center to learn more about our phenobarbital treatment program options.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants

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